Happ on impending free agency: 'I would love to stay' with Cubs

March 7th, 2023

MESA, Ariz. -- Last season served as an education for , who dealt with a constant swirl of trade rumors in the weeks, and months, leading up to the Trade Deadline.

The syllabus might be different this year, but one way or another, those lessons will come in handy again in 2023.

Regardless of the Cubs’ place in the standings and their status as a buyer or seller, the 28-year-old is entering his final year of club control, setting him up to become a free agent for the first time in his career. An extension to remain in Chicago is always a possibility, but so is the idea that he could be embarking on his final year in a Cubs uniform.

“Chicago's the place that is home for me and the only thing that I've ever known,” said Happ, who was selected by the Cubs in the first round (No. 9 overall) of the 2015 MLB Draft. “As a player who's only known this, you feel pretty at home in the organization and with the group. It would be weird to wear another jersey; I would love to stay here and I would love to be a part of the next great Cubs team, but we'll see.”

That decision isn’t likely to come until next offseason, when Happ could find himself in the upper echelon of free agent hitters. Shohei Ohtani is set to be the No. 1 player on the market, but now that Manny Machado has signed an extension with the Padres, Happ could be one of the more appealing bats in the free agent class.

Given the number of robust contracts that were handed out this past offseason, Happ could be hitting free agency at a fortuitous time, though he’s doing his best to learn from his past and tune out any such thoughts.

“There are always considerations there just for what the market looks like, but right now, it’s about being here and being present every day, just trying to win,” Happ said. “The other stuff takes care of itself.”

Like , , and before them, Happ and were the subjects of dozens of trade rumors last summer. Unlike their former teammates, neither player was ultimately traded prior to the Trade Deadline, but they learned to cope with the continuous chatter regarding their future on the North Side.

“I think all the experiences you have in the game help prepare you,” Happ said. “The experience in 2021 of those guys getting traded helped prepare me for going through it in ’22, and then going through that process helped prepare me for any time in the future when I might be involved in those rumors. It’s all part of it.”

Happ was unfazed by the uncertainty, earning his first All-Star selection, a Gold Glove, and career highs in average (.271), RBI[s] (72), doubles (42), runs scored (72), hits (155) and bWAR (2.3).

“That was very tough, mentally,” manager David Ross said. “I think he's gone through some times in his career where it hasn't been easy for him; some send-downs, some times of struggles on really good teams, the up-and-down kind of road of his Major League career. Last year, I thought he handled it great.

“He was very unemotional and very business-like, knew he couldn’t control any of that and he went out and made an All-Star team, won a Gold Glove and was probably our most consistent hitter. … I think he's been around long enough to understand that if he goes out and takes care of his business, good things are going to happen.”

is signed through 2026, while the Cubs’ top three prospects -- all of whom are on MLB Pipeline’s most recent Top 100 list -- are all outfielders: Brennen Davis (No. 92) is knocking on the door of the big leagues, while Kevin Alcantara (No. 87) and Pete Crow-Armstrong (No. 28) aren’t far behind.

The organization’s outfield depth could eventually spell the end of Happ’s tenure in Chicago, but as long as he’s wearing the uniform, he’s ready to do whatever is necessary to continue building a winning culture.

Just as Happ leaned on veterans including Rizzo, Jon Lester, John Lackey and Jason Heyward in his younger days, some of the Cubs’ youngsters now look to him in a similar fashion. When it’s noted that Crow-Armstrong occupies the locker next to him this spring, Happ transports himself back to his first big league camp in 2016.

“It goes by quick,” Happ said. “My first spring I was here, Lackey and Lester lockered right next to me. That’s seven years ago now. I was 22 and Rizz was 27 or 28 at the time. Now you have guys who are 20 and I’m 28. It’s crazy.

“I take a lot of pride in this organization, what it means to wear the uniform for the city and the people that support us every day. I’m making sure that the young guys are doing the right things to represent the organization. It's important. It’s pretty cool to have come all the way full circle; it’s just the baseball circle of life.”